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Delegation for 6.26.20: Police reform — health emergency — mask order — Gaetz — bus belts

Even after protests and violence, the nation is no closer to enacting reform in the way police interact with minority communities.

Police reform dead?

After numerous legitimate protests surrounding an unacceptable loss of life, followed by injury and property damage into the billions due to street violence, the nation is no closer to enacting reform in the way police interact with minority communities. The week began with some hope, but that was dashed by midweek.

The House introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, sponsored by California Democrat Karen Bass, more than two weeks ago. Included were bans on chokeholds, no-knock warrants for drug arrests, and made prosecuting or suing police officers easier. Delegation Democrats joined the rest of the Democratic caucus as co-sponsors.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, accompanied by Republican senators speaks at a news conference to announce a Republican police reform bill. Image via AP.

Senate Republicans, led by Tim Scott of South Carolina, introduced the Justice Act. The bill limited the use of chokeholds, called for the collection of more data on the use of no-knock warrants and funded greater use of body-worn cameras, but did not remove qualified immunity against civil lawsuits. Sen. Marco Rubio was among 48 GOP co-sponsors.

Soon after the launch of the Justice Act, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said both chambers could pass their respective bills and go to conference. It prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “hope Senate Democrats will listen to the Democratic Speaker.”

Pelosi must have heard from the far left within her party because, on the eve of the vote in the Senate, she described the GOP’s efforts to move Scott’s bill in stark terms.

“So far, they’re trying to get away with murder, actually,” she said on CBS Radio. “The murder of George Floyd.”

When asked by MSNBC, she refused to apologize. In that instance, she acted similarly to the President, who is not known for taking back incendiary comments.

On the floor, Scott and fellow Republicans urged Democrats to let the bill come to the floor for debate, where they said it could be amended, and then proceed to conference if it passed. In the end, the vote was 55-45, five votes shy of overcoming the Democratic filibuster.

Rubio said the filibuster is all about the November elections.

“And if people are reporting the truth, they will report that,” he told Fox News’ Martha McCallum. “Because to argue that we can’t even begin to debate and make changes to a bill, that I think they would have passed a lot of their amendments, by the way, you can’t make that argument with a straight face, but that’s what they did.”

The following day, the House passed the bill named after the man whose death sparked a movement. Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson called it “a bold first step,” while Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said it “answers the widespread calls to reform police practices.”

Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat and former police chief, described it as “a national moment,” and joined many of her colleagues demanding the Senate to “meet this moment.” Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park said, “the Senate must now take up this bill or put forth their own meaningful proposal,” joining the chorus that the Scott bill was insufficient.

If McConnell is true to his word and the House bill dies, all there is to show after Floyd’s death is an executive order by President Donald Trump, which can only direct federal law enforcement and incentivize state and local law enforcement.

Now what?

Health emergency response

Among the many things the COVID-19 pandemic exposed: A shortage in the health care workforce and the strain it is placing on the system. Rubio has joined with Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin to restore the ability to respond to a surge and develop a pipeline to address health care shortages.

Durbin has sponsored, and Rubio co-sponsored, America’s Health Care Readiness Act, legislation designed to provide a historic investment in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), Nurse Corps, and National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) programs.

The bill’s goal is to bolster health emergency surge capacity and restore the pipeline of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals that will address existing health workforce shortages throughout our country.

“The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a serious vulnerability in our nation’s supply chain for critical medical supplies, as well as the need to bolster our primary emergency health response workforce — especially in underserved and minority communities,” Rubio said.

Marco Rubio says the pandemic exposed weaknesses in America’s health care system. Image via AP.

“As health care professionals across our country continue to battle COVID-19 on the front lines, it’s up to Congress to step up and match their heroism, which is exactly what the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act does.”

A recent report last week from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the NDMS does not have the planning in place to ensure a workforce capable of responding to nationwide or multiple concurrent health events. The report also revealed that the NDMS workforce of emergency responders is only a fraction of its target amount.

The Senators said the U.S. is projected to have critical shortages in doctors and nurses over the coming decade that can affect both urban and rural communities. The bill would provide emergency surge funding to restore the workforce pipeline and create an Emergency Service Corps to ensure a proper amount of professionals are available to respond to a health crisis.

Mask order demanded

Delegation Democrats have heaped criticism on Gov. Ron DeSantis from the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. They repeatedly called for a statewide lockdown order in the early stages, blasted the many problems surrounding the state’s unemployment system, and warned against a “rushed reopening.”

This week, all 13 Democrats signed a letter demanding he issue a statewide order to wear masks in public. They acknowledge some communities have made such an order, but say it must be required around the state.

“Floridians need strong, universal guidance from you during this time of uncertainty. We need to hear from you, clearly and unequivocally, that wearing a mask in public is a requirement,” they wrote. “In saying so, you will be making a statement, driven by scientific data, that each individual has an urgent and integral role to play in slowing the spread of this virus.”

Delegation Democrats are demanding Ron DeSantis issue a statewide mask order. Image via AP.

Most Republicans have advocated wearing masks in public, but have not called for a statewide order, instead urging “personal responsibility.” While discussing the topic this week, Rubio said: “Everyone should just wear a damn mask.”

The call to demand the wearing of masks comes within the context of the announcement the Democratic National Convention will be an all-virtual gathering. With significant portions of the Republican National Convention coming to Jacksonville, Sen. Rick Scott says the organizers must “figure out” social distancing, adding “we have to wear masks,” unlike many in the recent Trump rallies held in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Phoenix, Arizona.

Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton summed up the demands of his colleagues in a tweet with a simple message. “Not sure what’s wrong with this: No shoes. No shirt. No mask. No service.”

Gaetz’ opening act

Three days after Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, the President was in Arizona looking at completed sections of the border wall. He also held a Students for Trump rally at a Phoenix megachurch.

The President is always the last to speak at these rallies, following “warmup” speakers designed to get the audience ready for the main event. Among those filling that portion of the program was Rep. Matt Gaetz, who successfully filled his role as he discussed displaying pride in being an American.

Matt Gaetz was the warmup act for the President during an Arizona appearance. Image via AP.

Quoting former President Calvin Coolidge, Gaetz told the crowd, “‘As Americans, we are the peers of kings,’ and I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we start acting like it. Some may call that ‘male privilege,’ or ‘white privilege,’” the Fort Walton Beach Republican said.

“You know what? Those terms are just racist terms to try to tell people to shut up, and we’re done being quiet!” Gaetz said to the appreciative audience.

“I reject the notion of ‘White privilege’ or ‘Black privilege’ or any other type of privilege. We are all unified in one American privilege that we should be proud of and fight for with everything we have!” Gaetz exclaimed as the crowd roared its approval.

Those attending were adequately warmed up for 75 minutes of the President in campaign mode tackling immigration, the rule of law, the Russia investigation, and several other topics.

Fishing expedition

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt was recently in North Florida, joining Rep. Neal Dunn and members of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) for a visit to “Half Hitch,” a Panama City tackle shop. The event focused on the importance of the sportfishing industry as recreation and as part of Florida commerce.

Recognizing the current climate, a broader discussion included how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the outdoor industry and ways that the federal government has worked to grant increased boating and fishing access.

The recently expanded recreational red snapper season was a point of discussion, prompting Dunn to praise Bernhardt’s efforts and cooperation with the industry.

From left: Rep. Neal Dunn, Sec. David Bernhardt, Tom Putnam (Owner, Half Hitch), Kellie Ralston (Southeast Fisheries Policy Director, ASA). Image via American Sportfishing Association.

“He’s working with us on a long-term plan for managing that so it’s sustainable, but also gives us access to the recreational fisherman and plenty of sustainability to the commercial market,” the Panama City Republican told local radio during a recent appearance.

During the visit, Bernhardt also referred to the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act by the U.S. Senate and the importance of supporting public lands and waters.

“We appreciate Secretary Bernhardt and Congressman Dunn visiting Half Hitch to see firsthand the importance of the sportfishing industry in Florida and relate how they’re working to expand access on federal lands for boaters and anglers across the nation,” said Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Southeast Fisheries Policy director.

Florida, often called the “Fishing Capital of the World,” generates $11.5 billion in economic impact, supports more than 106,000 jobs and contributes over $56 million to state conservation efforts through license fees and special taxes on boat fuel and equipment.

South Korea lauded

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War and the partnership with South Korea that remains strong today. American military personnel was involved in combat action against North Korean and Chinese forces, costing the lives of more than 36,000 Americans.

Rep. Ted Yoho, the ranking member of the House subcommittee overseeing Asia and the Pacific, joined with that committee’s chairperson, California Democrat Ami Bera, to introduce a House resolution commemorating those who served and highlighting the seven decadeslong friendship with South Korea.

The resolution cites the “1,789,000 United States soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines (who) served in theater,” those who gave their lives, and the 7,500 listed as missing in action.

Ted Yoho is grateful for the strong relationship between the U.S. and South Korea.

“For seven decades, the alliance and friendship between South Korea and the United States has remained unbreakable,” Yoho said in a news release announcing the resolution. “Our shared democratic values and desire for peace through strength are important linchpins for prosperity in Northeast Asia.”

Near its conclusion, the resolution gives thanks to the South Koreans for their donation of masks and the manufacture and distribution of test kits to assist the U.S. in responding to the COVID-19 virus.

“I am proud to co-lead this resolution to commemorate this significant anniversary and reaffirm the commitment between our two great nations,” added Yoho.

Earlier hurricane season

Even before the hurricane season officially began, two named storms had already formed while a third headed toward the U.S. in early June. Arthur, Bertha did not do major damage, but their timing brought about a call to expand the system from its current dates of June 1 through November 30.

Murphy wrote to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), calling for the starting date of the hurricane season to be moved back to May 15. She mentioned not only the three this year, but at least one named storm has formed before June 1 over the past six years.

Stephanie Murphy looking to start hurricane season two weeks early.

“This presents a practical problem, because government officials and residents in hurricane-prone states use this season to inform their funding choices, public awareness campaigns, and preparation decisions,” she wrote. “Accordingly, an official season that does not accurately predict major storm activity could result in readiness being compromised and people and property being harmed.”

NOAA spokesman Christopher Vaccaro said the agency received Murphy’s letter and looked forward to discussing the topic with her.

While the early disturbances in the recent past cannot be denied, some in the scientific community believe their lower intensity means a call for change is premature. They point to Hurricane Alma in 1970 as the only hurricane to develop before June 1.

“I don’t think there is any reason to lengthen the hurricane season, since we haven’t had a hurricane in May in 50 years,” Colorado State University research scientist Phil Klotzbach said.

Belts on the bus

The issue of children wearing safety belts while riding in school buses has been a focus of Rep. Charlie Crist. This week, the St. Petersburg Democrat reintroduced legislation from 2017 that renews the call for requiring seat belts.

The Best to Use Safety Belts (BUS) Act looks to enhance school bus safety by requiring new buses to be equipped with safety belts and provide grants to upgrade existing buses. Crist has advocated this cause since serving in the Florida Senate, where he successfully steered legislation through the Florida legislature requiring safety belts.

“Installing seat belts on school buses nationwide is a common sense, simple fix to secure the safety of the millions of students whose families rely on the bus to get their children to and from school,” Crist said in a news release announcing the bill.

Charlie Crist wants schoolchildren to buckle up on buses.

“Districts across Florida have seen the benefits of safety belts on school buses, and now it’s time that students in communities across the country are protected. I thank the NSC (National Safety Council) for continuing to lend their support to this legislation and look forward to seeing safety belts on school buses become the law of the land.”

Specifically, the bill will prohibit a person from manufacturing for sale, selling, introducing into interstate commerce, or importing into the U.S. a school bus that is not equipped with lap and shoulder belts for each passenger.

The safety program would be administered through the Department of Transportation (DOT), who may also make a competitive grant to a state or local education agency to retrofit a school bus with seat belts. Also, school districts could make a separate safety upgrade that demonstrably decreases the risk of injury or death in the event of an impact or rollover.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen.

Slow down testing?

Trump’s rhetoric or off-the-cuff responses to questions have often led to trouble and a less frequent walk-back of those comments (see “Maduro meeting” below). At other times, he stands by those comments, such as one made during last week’s rally in Tulsa, where he said that he ordered coronavirus testing to slow down because it was revealing too many positive results.

Many Republicans cringed again, but Democrats and most of the national media pounced on the remark. Senior aides said the comment was made in jest, but Trump himself said two days later that he was quite serious, adding “I don’t kid.”

“(Trump’s) inability to take #COVID19 seriously from the start has cost over 120,000 people in America their lives,” tweeted West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel. “He’s spread conspiracy theories, refused to wear a mask, & ignored #PublicHealth experts for MONTHS, but he’s “serious” about slowing down testing. Wow.”

It took less than 72 hours to produce an attack ad by Trump opponents.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

He also gave another media outlet a halfhearted denial that he slowed testing, but during an appearance before a House committee, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health and a well-known member of Trump’s response team, testified he was never asked to slow down testing.

“To my knowledge, none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact,” Fauci said. He added that to take the necessary steps to conquer the virus, “We’re going to be doing more testing, not less.”

Juneteenth holiday proposed

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, more Americans became aware of the significance of “Juneteenth,” marking the end of slavery. The U.S. commemorated the 155th anniversary of that June 19, 1865 event.

A more significant push is underway in Congress with both houses introducing bills to make it a national holiday. In the House, Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee sponsored legislation that would make June 19 an official federal holiday each year.

The bill currently has 134 co-sponsors, including Deutch, who was the first Floridian to sign on. Eight other delegation Democrats added their names this week.

After the death of George Floyd, calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday are growing louder. Image via AP.

“On Juneteenth, we not only celebrate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans but also to recognize the fight for freedom & equality did not end on June 19, 1865,” Deutch tweeted on June 19.

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced a similar bill designating “Juneteenth National Independence Day” as a “legal public holiday. Rubio is among the bill’s 50 co-sponsors, as are the three African American Senators, Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, as well as Republican Sen. Scott of South Carolina.

“The end of slavery was one of the most meaningful and significant events in the history of our republic, and Juneteenth is the most appropriate day to commemorate it,” Rubio said in a statement. “I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass legislation that celebrates freedom and recognizes the end of slavery in the United States.”

Maduro meeting floated, sunk

Despite the backing of the U.S. and several nations around the world, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has so far failed to organize enough support to prompt the removal of dictator Nicolás Maduro from power. Trump recently indicated he might be having second thoughts about Guaidó’s ability to facilitate change and was open to a meeting with Maduro.

That led to a torrent of criticism, especially from Democrats. At the same time, Republicans were mostly silent, but they understood giving Maduro that kind of credibility could be damaging to ongoing efforts to oust him. The President would be meeting with an individual under indictment by the Trump Justice Department for narcotics trafficking.

Donald Trump floated the idea of a meeting with Nicolás Maduro, which quickly sank. 

Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables accused Trump of being “charmed by the authoritarianism” of Maduro.

“This is a sad day for the Venezuelan people, democracy, and America’s leadership in the world,” she said in a statement. “I continue to stand with President Juan Guaidó and will continue to work alongside the people of Venezuela as they seek to peacefully restore democracy.”

“Taking a meeting with Nicolás Maduro, who was just indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for narco-terrorism, clearly shows his complete disregard for freedom and democracy and undermines the gains made by the legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, to restore democracy,” added Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami in a separate statement.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart did not support having the meeting but defended Trump’s previous actions toward Venezuela and the efforts to force out Maduro.

“His DOJ has indicted #Maduro and his cronies for crimes related to corruption, drug trafficking, and terrorism,” Diaz-Balart said on Twitter. “No president has been tougher in opposing tyranny in our hemisphere than @realDonaldTrump.”

Within 24 hours, Trump clarified his position. In a tweet, he said he would only meet with Maduro “to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power.”

Israel’s annexation plan

After the word leaked that it was in progress, this week, House Democrats released the letter urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to take the step of annexing the West Bank. The letter, co-authored by Deutch, predicted negative consequences for relationships in the Middle East should that step be taken.

A total of 191 Democrats signed the letter, which warned the two-state solution would be harder to achieve, and “annexation would likely jeopardize Israel’s significant progress on normalization with Arab states at a time when closer cooperation can contribute to countering shared threats.”

Ted Deutch joined nearly 200 Democrats in warning Israel to not annex the West Bank.

“Today, 191 Members of Congress who support our strategic relationship with Israel and are committed to Israel’s security expressed our deep concern over unilateral annexation of the West Bank,” Deutch said on social media.

Among those signing on were Reps. Castor, Crist, Demings, Frankel, Shalala, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

At nearly the same time, House Republicans sent a letter of their own to Netanyahu containing a completely different message. The 112 members pledged their allegiance to Israel, support for the Trump peace plan and, without saying it directly, gave their backing for the Netanyahu annexation plan.

“We are aware of and deeply concerned by threats being expressed by some to retaliate against Israel as it makes decisions to ensure defensible borders,” they wrote. “It is shortsighted to threaten relations with Israel, a longtime friend and critical ally that shares our democratic values.”

Leading the letter was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Seven delegation Republicans, including Dunn, Yoho, John Rutherford, Michael Waltz, Ross Spano, Brian Mast, and Greg Steube signed on.

“While Democrats in Congress threaten to betray our alliance with Israel, Republicans are committed to standing up for our shared democratic principles,” Steube said in a separate statement. “We stand with Israel now and always and will continue to recognize and support their sovereignty in making decisions.”

On this day

June 26, 2008 — President George W. Bush indicated his administration would remove North Korea from the list of nations known as the Axis of Evil. The move comes after the rogue regime belatedly filed a required report of their nuclear activities.

Bush credited the regime with steps taken to demonstrate the country’s pledge to denuclearize, while maintaining he has “no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang.” North Korea has shared space on Bush’s axis, announced during his 2002 State of the Union address, with Iran and Iraq.

June 26, 2015 — As the 2015 session of the U.S. Supreme Court neared its end, the Justices issued another landmark ruling when a 5-4 majority held that same-sex marriages must be recognized within all 50 states. Justice Anthony Kennedy continued his role as the swing vote as he joined with liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to invalidate state laws, including Florida, prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Same-sex couples ask for “equal dignity” within the law and “(t)he Constitution grants them that right,” wrote Kennedy for the majority. In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “five lawyers” ordered the state to change their laws adding, “Just who do we think we are?”

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